Friday, January 28, 2005

Auschwitz anniversary thoughts

Copied and pasted from

"God did not reveal himself in Auschwitz or in other camps. . . . A doctor who survived, from a religious background, who sailed to Israel with us in June 1946, told us: "We didn't see God when we expected him, so we have no choice but to do what he was supposed to do: we will protect the weak, we will love, we will comfort. From now on, the responsibility is all ours."

Aharon Appelfeld, 60th anniversary of Auschitz dismantling, NYT January 25th, 2005
To my ears, Appelfeld seems to be making the following assertion regarding the nature and (non)presence of God:
  • Auschwitz was a locus of unspeakable evil;
  • The God we were taught to believe in was good;
  • No good God would allow Auschwitz to happen, if he were there. THEREFORE:
  • God was not at Auschwitz.

Does his assertion necessarily follow? As I read scripture, I see a God who allows horrible suffering to occur. His response to horrible suffering is often not to stop it but rather to experience it with his suffering creation. God is not unmoved by or distant from the suffering of his people: rather, he suffers alongside them (Isaiah 16.9, 11; 63.9; Jeremiah 31.20; 48.31, 36; Hosea 11.8-9.)

One fascinating thing about the passages referenced above: in some of them, the suffering is said to have been sent by God as punishment or correction. In those cases, God (in a sense) is punishing himself: suffering, even when it is a consequence of evil, involves the creator alongside the created.

How should this aspect of God's character affect the way Christians think of Auschwitz or Rwanda or the Indian Ocean tsunami?

Auschwitz anniversary thoughts: a caveat

A caveat: in my writing and preaching and teaching, I almost never reference the Holocaust. And I'm beginning to question my motives. I'm wondering if the reason I avoid the topic is because I think that the people I'm talking to are incapable of contemplating / accepting the reality of human evil in that scope. Maybe I'm incapable too: it doesn't fit with the optimism that I try to live my life with.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


I am whipped. Beaten-down.

Part of it's that it's January. (Hey, two "it's" in a sentence, and properly--if colloquially--used!) January sucks. It's cold. The Cowboys aren't playing football anymore, so I can't even pretend they're playoff bound.

Part of it's that I'm getting sick, I do believe--there's a heaviness in my chest and an itching in my sinuses that doesn't bode well.

Part of it's that I've finished my book manuscript--at least for now--and there's always a natural letdown after I finish a project.

Part of it's that I don't have my guitar right now--my Paul Reed Smith, for reasons I won't disclose, is not where I can play it.

Part of it's that school has been going long enough for the adrenalin of a new semester to wear off.

Money worries. Tired. Kids.

And did I mention that it's cold? Bone-chilling, aching-knees-and-knuckles cold? Single-digit cold? I'm from Texas, 30 is cold where I'm from.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Being a Bruce Cockburn Christian in a Jerry Falwell world is--well--never easy, never boring, never simple.

Alright, enough self-pity. Pastoral Epistles class awaits!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The MS is finished

The manuscript of my book is finished--I wrote the last few words last night. I'll be emailing it to the publisher and the typesetters later today.

Once the publishers have typeset the manuscript, they'll send back to me what are called "proofs"--copies of the actual pages of the book. I'm supposed to go through all the proofs and correct any errors, update page number references, etc. Then it all goes back to the publisher, and then--FINALLY--it gets published and distributed.

And SOMEDAY I'll actually get a few dollars in royalties for the darn thing. But that's really not the point in academic publishing, I guess.

Anyway: it's done. So there.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Random (REALLY!)

It's Monday. My 1.15 class has been cancelled due to Bill Leamon's funeral (see the post from last Friday, if I wasn't so lazy I'd link it here.)

At the end of last week, I determined that I would spend the weekend writing the last few pages of my manuscript. Sheffied Phoenix press (here's a link,, I guess I'm NOT too lazy to shill for myself) is publishing my doctoral dissertation and I have the revised and corrected manuscript ALMOST ready to mail to them. I just need to rewrite the last few pages and rewrite the preface and acknowledgements.

Well, anyway: that's what I told myself I'd be doing this weekend. But NO! I slept. I watched football. I waited for the Dish Network guy to come and install Dish Network. And now I'm riffing and wasting time again.

Gotta get that writing done, you know? Now would be a good time--I don't have to prep for my 1.15 class, for obvious reasons. And the funeral isn't until 2. So maybe I'll write.

EDIT: I just finished rewriting the preface. Now all I gotta do is rewrite the "Avenues for Future Research" section, which is about four / five pages long. I can do it this evening, and get the @#$% thing in the mail tomorrow.

Really. I can. I mean I will. REALLY!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Death in the family

I just found out that one of the people here at KCU, the head of maintenance, died in a car wreck this afternoon.

Bill was an interesting guy. I probably had two conversations with him in the nearly two years that I've been here.

The first was on my first or second day at the University, when I parked my SUV on the sidewalk to unload books and carry them into my office. There was no one else around, it was in the evening, etc., so I figured "Why not?"

Bill came walking up. I'd met him when he'd ducked into my office earlier that day to see what bookshelves I needed, etc., but hadn't really talked to him. Anyway: he came walking up, I thought he was going to help me carry boxes of books from the Trooper to the office, but NO! He told me, "You can't park there," and then he went on walking. Not angry or nasty or scolding or anything--kind of apologetic, really.

I remember that I found the juxtaposition of my expectation--that he was coming to help me carry books--and the message that he delivered--"You can't park there!"--quite humorous.

The second conversation I had with him was a couple of weeks ago. My fifteen year old daughter is going on a mission trip to Mexico this spring break, and Bill was the leader of the missions group. I was amazed at how passionate he was about the work in Mexico, and how emotional this otherwise calm man became when talking about it.

Now I don't know what's going to happen with the mission trip, and I pray for his family--they've experienced more than their share of loss lately, it seems. And I thank God that I got to have that second conversation with Bill, that I got to see and hear Jesus in him while he talked about the work in Mexico.

A favorite blog:

One of the blogs that i ALWAYS read (partly because he sends me an email to remind me to do so) is Dick Staub's Culturewatch ( It's a GREAT site, and Staub presents cogent, thoughtful reflections on current events, particularly events in the arts.

"Joe Bob says: check it out."

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Faith and History--thoughts in process

The following is an unfinished rumination on the intersection of faith and intellectual inquiry.

Can I, in my quest to find historical and theological truth, end up finding a truth that destroys my faith? And if I DID find a truth that destroyed my faith, what the heck was my faith worth in the first place?

Where do faith and history, faith and intellectual inquiry, intersect? Should I, as a Christian and person of faith who is also a historian and scholar, worry that my research will lead me into areas that will damage my faith?

An illustration: I've been shocking my students over the last few days, I suppose.

I teach at a Christian university in eastern Kentucky (named "Kentucky Christian University," go figure.) Most of my students are from church backgrounds that are very conservative--which I don't regard as a bad thing, I'm very conservative myself.

Many of my students have a fair understanding of the Bible and its content, at about a Sunday School level--again, not a bad thing. But these are academic Bible classes, and our university's central purpose is the preparation of Christian leaders for the Church and the world. We have to call students to go deeper than the Sunday School level.

Anyway: in two of my classes this week, I've been talking about how authorship in ancient texts doesn't necessarily work the same way authorship works in our day and time. For example: ancient Israel regarded king David as the author of the book of Psalms, even though everyone knew that he didn't write all of them. He was the one who commissioned and motivated the publication of the Psalter, so the people associated the book with him and regarded him as the author.

Some of my students were disturbed by this assertion. Because they're projecting modern standards and practices back onto ancient literature--we historians call that "anachronism"--they conclude that there's something deceptive or underhanded going on, something that threatens the reliability of the Bible, if David didn't write every word of a book that is traditionally attributed to him. (Incidentally: here's a case where people are protective of their traditions rather than trying to really determine what the Bible actually says.)

Alright then, the question: can I, in my quest to find historical and theological truth, end up finding a truth that destroys my faith? And if I DID find a truth that destroyed my faith, what the heck was my faith worth in the first place?

I'm a scholar. God gave me a mind and a deep curiousity about the truths in his word. He called me to investigate those truths, and then to try to communicate the results of that investigation to his people, to prepare them for the work and ministry they would do in the world.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Is Biblical Criticism Necessary?, pt 2

I closed part one with a pair of statements from two students of mine. In both statements, the writers were arguing that Christians don't need to approach the Bible scientifically or historically to understand it. We should just read the Bible, trust that God will give us understanding, and do what it says.

What do you think of those statements?

Actually, I agree with both of them--but only to a point. Christians DO need to read the Bible and be serious about doing what it says. We need to follow (or not follow) the examples we find there, and apply the word to our lives. We need to respect and submit to the authority of the Bible.

At the same time, it is incredibly naive to simply say, "The Bible is a handbook for how to have a blessed life. Just read it and do it and don't worry about all that other stuff."

Can you think of issues or texts from the Bible where the "don't worry about all that historical stuff" model of interpretation breaks down? I can. Think of the debates in Christendom over things like:
  • The role of women in church and family
  • The meaning, significance, and mode of baptism
  • Can you lose your salvation?
  • Who is and who is not saved?
  • Other racial and cultural "hot button" issues?
On each side of these issues are people who honestly believe that the Holy Spirit has led them to the positions that they hold. Both sides base their beliefs on their honest understanding of the Bible. Both sides sincerely seek to know God's truth and God's will in these areas.

And both sides hold absolute views: in other words, each side holds a position that, for it to be right, the opposite position must be wrong. There is no way to reconcile "Only Christians will be saved," and "God will provide salvation for the whole world."

The existence of these issues leads me to conclude that it's not enough to simply "Read the Bible and try to do what it says." It does not lead to unity. It does not lead to true understanding of God's word.

In part three of this series, I discuss several insights from Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth, 3rd ed. In part four, I set out my conclusions.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Is Biblical Criticism Necessary?", part 1

I'm a professor of biblical studies. Interpreting the Bible in academic and church settings is my calling and vocation. I admit at the outset that I have a vested interest in the necessity of biblical criticism and interpretation.

The best term for what I do is "biblical criticism." Let me unpack that term.

In The American Heritage Dictionary, one of the definitions of criticism is "the analyzing, interpreting, or evaluating" of any literary work. That's the meaning of the word criticism when I talk/write about biblical criticism.

A short definition of biblical criticism: biblical criticism is the scientific and historical study of the Bible.

An expanded definition might read:
  • Biblical criticism is the study of the Bible and the world around and behind its texts.
  • The goal of biblical criticism is the best possible understanding of what the Holy Spirit was communicating through the biblical writers to their day and time.
  • Based on this goal is a second goal: only by understanding what the text meant can we actually understand what the text should mean for us today.

Is biblical criticism necessary? Consider these quotes from two papers I have received from students over the past few years.

"The Holy Spirit wrote the Word and we believers in Christ also have the Holy Spirit in us. Therefore we do not need anyone or anything to interpret or explain what is really being said in Scripture."

"We make understanding the Bible too complicated. We should just read the Bible and do what it says, and not worry about all that other stuff."

What do you think of these statements? In part two, I describe MY response to them.

Monday, January 10, 2005

"Full-time Christian Service"

[EDIT: Below, I try to describe the differences and similarities between professional ministry and non-professional ministry in terms of qualitative and quantitative differences/similarities. I'm not happy with these heuristic categories. Can you think of a better way to describe the differences I'm talking about? END EDIT]

When I was a kid--lo, these many years ago--people in the church would always talk about whether a young person was going into "full-time Christian service." What they seemed to think was that Christian teen-agers should be encouraged to commit to spending their lives in professional ministry or mission work, etc.

Now that I'm older, I have a real problem with the whole concept of "full-time Christian service." My problem is NOT with young people committing their lives to ministry, or committing their lives to PROFESSIONAL ministry (i.e., ministry in the Church.)

My problem is with the idea, which the old-timey attitude conveys, that there is a qualitative difference between a Christian in a secular career (e.g., working at a bank) and a Christian getting paid to serve as a youth minister. Hear me on this: EVERY CHRISTIAN IS CALLED TO BE A MINISTER. EVERY CHRISTIAN IS CALLED TO "FULL-TIME CHRISTIAN SERVICE," NO MATTER WHERE THEY WORK.

There are clear quantitative differences between "secular careers" and "ministry careers," between working for a profit-driven organization and a mission-driven organization.

The priorities are different. A person working in a bank, for example, MUST have "making a profit" as one of their priorities. It's just part of the job. If they're not willing to make "making a profit" one of their priorities, then they shouldn't work in a bank. And if I was running the bank, I don't care how spiritual their priorities were, I wouldn't want them working for me.

But I'm not satisfied with the way I've framed this difference--"qualitative" and "quantitative" don't seem to me to capture the essence of what I'm trying to point out. Must think on this--more later.

Classes Start Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first day of classes for the Spring '05 semester here at Kentucky Christian University. I can't wait.

I love teaching. I love the research I do. I love discussing God and religion and right and wrong, etc., with my students.

I love working with students who are committed to serving God with their lives. It doesn't really matter to me whether they're planning to enter "Full-time Christian Service" or "a secular career." What I care about is if they're passionate about knowing and serving God.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Jerry Orbach, RIP

A great actor, Jerry Orbach, died the other day at age 69. Orbach is best known for his role as Det. Lenny Briscoe on Law and Order.

Orbach, a veteran of Broadway musicals, also had prominent roles in Disney's Beauty and the Beast (as the voice of Lumiere, the singing candle) and the worst movie ever made, Dirty Dancing. About the only interesting thing about Dirty Dancing is that it launched the careers of Patrick Swayze (spelling?) and Jennifer Grey's first nose. Swayze's fifteen minutes were up a long, long time ago. Grey's first nose didn't even last that long. Anyway.

The movie I'll always remember Orbach for is Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, a great movie. In it, he plays the brother (Jack Rosenthal) of respected, established opthamologist Judah Rosenthal (chillingly played by Martin Landau).

Judah decides to have his mistress (Angelica Huston) murdered when she begins pressing him to leave his wife. And since his brother, Jack (Orbach) is mobbed-up, he asks Jack to have it done. The mistress is killed, and--a few sleepless nights later--Judah appears to have completely gotten away with it. Everything returns to normal.

At the end of the movie, Judah is talking to Woody Allen's character, Cliff Stern, a filmmaker, at a cocktail party. Judah tells Stern the story of "the perfect murder." Stern thinks Judah is pitching a story idea to him, but in reality Judah is describing the murder he commissioned.

As Judah tells it: the murderer escapes punishment for his crime. Someone else takes the fall, and the murderer prospers--there is no cosmic justice. Stern says, “Yes, but can he ever really go back?”

Judah responds: “In time it all fades.”

Stern continues to argue for some sense of justice: for the story to come out right, the murderer should take responsibility, driven by guilt, and turn himself in. "In the absence of a God, man himself must take responsibility," a line that deserves some thought, IMHO.

Judah responds: “But that’s a movie. I’m talking about reality. If you want a happy ending you should go see a Hollywood movie." Then Judah gets up and kisses his beautiful wife--a Hollywood ending, but subverted and twisted.

It's a chilling movie, yet also funny in a Woody Allen sort of way. It's worth watching and hashing out the ethical issues involved.


The name "Theophilus Punk" is a conflation of several plays on words.

When I was in Bible College (Dallas Christian College) back in the early 1980's, I wanted to get together a group of freaks like myself to play improvised heavy-metal-acid-jazz music--imagine REM meets Black Sabbath meets Grateful Dead meets In a Silent Way-era Miles Davis, and I wanted to call the band Theophilus Punk. Of course, WANTING to form a band is a lot different than FORMING a band, so it never happened.

Anyway: the plays on words: The first, of course, is a play on the name of legendary jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Monk was the lyrical anarchist of bebop piano, who wrote such classics as " 'Round Midnight," "Straight, No Chaser," and "Blue Monk."

The second is a play on the name "Theophilus." Theophilus, which is an ancient Greek name meaning "lover of God," was the patron who supported the early Christian biographer Luke while he wrote the gospel and the book of Acts which we now have in the New Testament.

As for the "punk" part--well, you can probably figure it out on your own. I had a wide and deep rebellious streak when younger, and--though I've repented of all that and become wise and respectable--I still have a little edginess in my character.

Boring stuff about who I am

Let me introduce myself.

I'm a professor of Biblical Studies at Kentucky Christian University. My name is Perry L. Stepp--I won't tell you what the L stands for, let's just say "it ain't good."

I have a Ph.D. from Baylor University in New Testament, and teach mostly New Testament studies, since that's my area of specialization. For my dissertation, I studied the way leadership was passed on in the ancient world, and then applied the patterns I saw to the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy and Titus) from the New Testament, which describe the relationships between Paul and his successors.

My wife, Elizabeth, and I have been married since May 1986. We're coming up on our 19th anniversary. Wow. I love her desperately. She is my heart.

We have three wonderful children, daughters who are in Jr High and High School, and a son who is in elementary school. We also have a dog, two car payments, student loans, etc., etc.

What do I hope to do through this blog? Well, I have a lot of students and I hope this gives them a chance to interact with me outside of class. And I have an occasional deep thought, the random snippet of wisdom on topics like philosophy, religion, music, politics, etc., and this would be a place to collect those, allow for some critique and rebuttal, etc.